Thursday, April 14, 2005

Small-Ball, Big Win

Game 9 - Mets

Mets 4, Astros 3
Record: 4-5

Okay, so I panicked [below] when Willie Randolph opted to use Manny "Aybarf a little bit every time he comes in" in the 8th. As it turns out, Aybar was unspectacular but did just enough to leave the reins in Roberto Hernandez's steady palms without the carriage careening off the road. Roberto finished the 8th as if to say, "I'm not sure what the big deal was here." Braden Looper did the rest, assuaging a fair number of fears still kicking around from the season opener.

And the Mets swept the Astros. Just like that.

Victor Zambrano looked exactly like a typical 5th starter does; unfortunately, he's currently in the 4-spot. He didn't go out and give it away, but he did enough wrong that the Metbats had to come through for him. Down 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Zambrano came to bat with one out and a man on third. He flailed. The very next inning, Zambrano faced the Astros pitcher, Brandon Backe (who'd already tripled and scored), with a man on third. At that moment, the not-quite-venerable Fran Healy [***I promise to cease defending this man if the masses let up on him***] implored Zambrano not to simply throw fastballs as if Backe were a lousy hitting pitcher like himself. (For a former infielder, V-Zam hits like a former pitcher.) Naturally, Monsignor Healy was ignored, none of the requested sliders were hurled, and Backe smacked a laser into right-center for an RBI to make it 3-1.

Soon thereafter, about the time I was groaning about another Jose "A Swinging Bat Gathers No Moss" Reyes whiff, they announced that the two relievers warming up were John "BS Only Partly Stands for Blown Save" Franco and Dan "Give 'Em L" Wheeler. Surf & turf on the Met menu, I concluded. The reality was that Franco induced dribblers from both batters he faced, and Wheeler got a grounder to third. The result, however, was that they entered up two runs and exited down one. Marlon Anderson, Reyes, and Miguel Cairo eked out just enough with their weapons to score three runs. The announcers kept referring to "little-ball," but I always heard it called "small-ball." Doesn't really matter what it's called, it's the Anti-Art Howe strategy, it's fun to watch, and it's working for now.

It is getting weird how the ex-Mets seem to crumble when they face their old squad. Memo to Omar: please trade Manny Aybar to Atlanta and Felix Heredia to Florida. Pronto.

Three quick (pseudo-)parting thoughts:
1. The bench seemed fungo-thin at the season's outset, but they all seem to be contributing. Cairo, Chris Woodward, and the ever-producing Marlon Anderson made a difference tonight in their own quiet ways. I'm a fan.
2. Mike Piazza, oh, Mike Piazza. It's just all falling apart. His work behind the dish is going from bad to worse, or from worse to holy mother of mackerel. Another throw into center to advance a future run-scorer tonight, plus some mightily awful swings. I have my fingers crossed for an unlikely reputation reclamation. I hope I'll be able to see it with my head in the sand like this.
3. Pedro vs. Al Leiter on Saturday. Yikes.

* * *

To Rob, the Nation, and especially the masters of overstatement at ESPN: the Sheffield incident tonight is not an incident. Nothing worth watching in replay form happened. Steve Levy just made a comparison to the Pacers/Pistons disaster, which in my mind is the saddest attempt to draw viewers with a non-story I've seen in years. Please stop overhyping . . . well, just about everything you air, but especially baseball games between the Boston and New York American League franchises. They are baseball games, not the Days of Our Pinstriped Lives. The perpetrator of the offense to Gary Sheffield appeared to be your typical New England Massengillian, but until MLB stops placing the onus of restraint on the fans and makes walls just high enough and seats just far enough removed so they can't interfere with balls or players, this is going to go on indefinitely. More than one park introduced new seats closer to the action this season; when these moneymaking, play-interfering additions result in a brawl or, worse yet, a line drive death, it may be time to quit celebrating proximity to 100-mph projectiles and frightened million-dollar athletes with chips on their shoulders.

Of far more interest in this game was (a) another putrid, stank home plate umpire calling balls and strikes with all of the composure of a seizure victim; (b) Terry Francona mouthing, "that is just so f-ing bad" and being run, but being right; (c) Randy Johnson looking like he'd swap all that run support for a chance to face a pitcher again; (d) Jason Varitek coming right back after the blow-up and drilling one out of the stadium. Rob was at the Nats' home opener tonight, but he would have been proud at his boys' resilience. Of note is my ever-enforced belief that one-sided screw-jobs from the ump seem to help a team find its mojo.

* * *

The Nationals opened up RFK tonight, and it was pretty amazing to watch on the tube; I'm sure my colleague has a significantly more worthy series of thoughts from the experience, so I'll just say that I'm breathing easy after bitching ad inifinitum for so many years about baseball here in DC. It's a nice place to be. Oh, and plunking Vinny Castilla when he needs a single for the cycle in this historic game? I guess along with those 100+ games they lost last year, the Diamellebacks also lost their big-league professionalism. There was no nasty rivalry to uphold here with that move, but someone's getting drilled tomorrow, and I like it.

Three great games to juggle between tonight. Worth every cent of the Extra Innings package, for you cats out there forced to watch Los Mets en Espanol.

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